July 21, 1918

German U-Boat Attacks Cape Cod

Region:
Southeast

On this day in 1918, people in the Cape Cod town of Orleans were astonished to see a German U-boat surface offshore and begin firing on an unarmed tugboat and the four barges it was pulling. Torpedoes set the tug ablaze and injured its crew, while constant shelling sank the barges. Thanks to the skill and courage of Coast Guardsmen, everyone was rescued. Some of the shells fired from the sub landed on the beach, making this the first time the U.S. mainland had been attacked since the War of 1812 and the only time the country was attacked during World War I. The state had been producing arms, vehicles, and supplies for the war effort and sending soldiers abroad, but no one expected what occurred that Sunday in Orleans.

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